If wags and pundits from the late 60's are to be believed, then Catholic birth regulation, since Catholics should not be practicing birth control, was limited to being like the CNR (that's VIA Rail for you young folks), and pulling out on time. That was the limit of most people's knowledge of Catholic teaching on the Regulation of Birth. Humorous, maybe, accurate not so much. Besides that was back in the day when trains running on time was to be expected.
On the 25th of July 1968, then Pope Paul VI delivered his famous, at least among Catholics, encyclical letter entitled Humanae Vitae, and subtitled On the Regulation of Birth. It was a monumental document, and it is available here.
What makes the Catholic Church so hard to fathom is that from its teachings, it swims upstream. But so many of its adherents (and I use that term loosely), go with the flow. Many years ago, while in Newfoundland, my wife and I witnessed salmon fighting against a raging waterfall to get upstream to spawn, because they had to. Humanae Vitae is like the salmon. The Pope wrote it because he had to. But most Catholics that I know, and myself for many of the early years of Humanae Vitae are/were just in a boat going along for the ride, and that boat was heading downstream.
First off, some people know that the Pope may speak ex cathedra, that is "from the chair of Peter", at which time he is believed by the faithful to be speaking infallibly. This has only been done once since 1870, and Humanae Vitae was not it. So, Humanae Vitae was a teaching document but carried with it great authority within the Church for its followers as explained here. Turns out that did not carry a lot of weight with most of us back then, and now, look at ads on TV for birth control and see if it has any weight now.
When the document was written, the Pope was ridiculed for it, by most people who were aware of it, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The world was in the throes of a contraception, free love revolution, and contraception was the panacea that would solve poverty, pollution, war, crime and marital difficulties. Artificial means of birth control were living proof, well not living per se, that medical science had licked the "fertility problem."
In that none of those difficulties have been solved in the 41 years since Humanae Vitae, there is some evidence to support that maybe there was truth in the document.
The Pope was calling for the faithful to eschew the use of artificial means of birth regulation. In his document, he made 4 predictions or prophesies about what would happen if birth control became habitual among mankind.
He first predicted a rise in marital infidelity and moral decline. Bingo on that one. Anyone want to disagree?
Second, he predicted lost respect for women. Our culture does not respect the gifts that women have as women, but values them more as sexual objects. Watch any TV last night?
Next, he predicted abuse of power. The power over reproduction is a heady power. With it you can rule nations. China has abused reproductive power significantly, and the abuses of family planning in third world countries, in the name of helping them are legendary.
Finally, he predicted that mankind would think he had unlimited dominion over his own body. We see sterilization, wide use of body disfigurement, test tube babies, and stem cell research requiring the fertilization of eggs, essentially killing pre-born infants, among other things.
One other thing that gets missed with many of the birth control pills is that they are abortifacient. Because they allow an egg to be fertilized, but prevent the fertilized egg from attaching to the womb. In other words, if there is sex causing conception, the pill causes an abortion in very short order.
Here is what Janet Smith from the University of Dallas said about his predictions.
But, Humanae Vitae was not all doom and gloom. In fact, Pope Paul had high hopes for the Body of Christ, and in Section 21 he spoke of the value of self discipline, and as Janet Smith says:
In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul made some positive predictions as well. He acknowledged that spouses might have difficulty in acquiring the self-discipline necessary to practice the methods of family planning that require periodic abstinence. But he taught that self-discipline was possible, especially with the help of sacramental grace. In Section 21, he remarked:
....the discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace; and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility.
What Pope Paul was preaching was for the faithful to use the gift of their sexuality to enrich their relationships, to build a family, and to grow in their faith, not just to tickle their genitals.
However, the Pope does not have the marketing department that the drug companies have, and so artificial means of birth control have flourished in the last 41 years, and society is no better off for it.
Artificial birth control does not require a lot of communication. "You on the pill?" "You got a condom?" Of course, liberated women carry condoms with them, and maybe liberated men have a morning after pill in their wallet too, I guess. "Let's do the horizontal mambo. What was your name again?"
I remember one morning before I was married, a buddy that I lived with who was a hound dog, called me at home to ask me the name of the girl he had gone home with the previous night. He didn't want to keep calling her "Hey, You" anymore. Back to the earlier prophesy about lost respect for women.
The Church teaches Natural Family Planning, and Wikipedia has a small article on it here. A well known method of NFP is the Billings Method, and here is some information about it. I know that is works, having practiced it with my wife for several years, to not get pregnant, and then to get pregnant. It worked both ways.
Natural Family Planning requires that a husband and wife communicate with each other regularly about their sexual desires, needs and the realities of their lives. Birth Control not so much.
Natural Family Planning is not something you do in a one night stand. Oh, one other thing. You don't need a prescription, and you don't have to pay anybody for it.